Neuropathy is a condition characterized by damage to a nerve or a group of nerves. It causes functional problems in the affected nerves, including a loss of sensation and difficulty with movement. Neuropathy can cause damage anywhere, as the peripheral nerves branch out from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin and organs throughout the body. The nerves send messages to the brain about sensation and pain in each particular area, so if they are not functioning properly, complications can easily occur.
When neuropathy affects one nerve, it is known as mononeuropathy. When several nerves are affected, it is known as polyneuropathy. Neuropathy may develop as a result of a nerve disease, chronic repetitive motion or as a side effect of an illness or medication. Most forms of neuropathy progress gradually and symptoms often occur symmetrically on both sides of the body. Less frequently, neuropathy will have an acute onset with sudden, rapidly-forming symptoms.
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Depending on the underlying cause of the neuropathy, treatments may vary. For some patients, little or no treatment will be required and the neuropathy will resolve on its own. For others, managing the underlying cause of the neuropathy, will greatly improve or eliminate the symptoms. Conservative measures are often initially taken to treat many forms of neuropathy. These may include corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation and pressure on the nerve as well as over-the-counter or prescription medication for pain. In addition, orthopedic devices such as braces or splints may be recommended to stabilize the problem area. Physical therapy is often helpful in strengthening the affected muscles and occupational therapy may be useful in improving sensory motor function skills. If the pressure on a nerve cannot be effectively relieved through less invasive means, surgery may be the best treatment option to alleviate symptoms and prevent permanent nerve damage.